The rise of the Newcastle Knights

I have been a Newcastle Knights supporter for 20 of the 23 years of my life.

I have watched them in their glory days, I have watched them after the departure of Andrew Johns, I have watched them with ‘super coach’ Wayne Bennett and I have watched them get three consecutive spoons.

In his fourth game/run-on debut in Round 1 1994, a 20-year-old Andrew Johns led Newcastle Knights to a 43-14 victory over the South Sydney Rabbitohs, in which he scored 23 of the Knights’ 43 points.

His career says it all – 2,176 points, most to ever be scored by a halfback, seventh halfback to score four tries in one match and in the same game. He scored 34 points, the most points to be scored by a halfback in one match.

He set up the greatest grand final finish off all time in 1997 ARL grand final when he got Darren Albert over the line with six seconds left to steal it from Manly, 22-16. I firmly believe had it not been for the Super League competition, it would have been Manly versus Brisbane in the big dance.

In 2001, Johns captained the Knights to a 30-24 grand final win over the runaway minor premiers, Parramatta Eels.

I believe to this day, had Newcastle chose Super League over ARL, Super League would have won. That’s right I said it.

Did we see a champions versus champions match between the two competition winners? No, but we saw something better. Unity between the comps, the finish of the war and now we have a fitting name, National Rugby League.

Back on the topic about Newcastle Knights as a team. After Andrew Johns was forced into retirement, the spirit was there and they made the finals just three times but no premiership.

In 2013, just one more win to get them there but a 40-14 thrashing by the Sydney Roosters cut their trip short. In 2014, Nathan Tinkler relinquished ownership and things really went downhill.

In 2015, we won the first four but after our Round 5 13-0 loss to St George Illawarra Dragons, it went downhill. We sadly just got the wooden spoon after losing 30-12 against Penrith Panthers.

In 2016, we only had a Round 6 18-16 win over the Wests Tigers to show, then we had 18 losses on the trot. The loss of Jarrod Mullen for his four-year drug suspension really was a heartbreaker.

Knights player Jarrod Mullen during the NRL Auckland Nines. (AAP Image/SNPA, Teaukura Moetaua)

In 2017, did we get the spoon again? Unfortunately we did but I saw something different. I saw a team who played most games with every part of their bodies and gave it their all. Five wins plus some close losses told me they’re cooking up a storm and no one is prepared.

Here we are in 2018, the Knights have made some outstanding signings and kept a lot of their rookies from 2017. Those rooks have got another 12 months of experience they can work with plus the signings are going to be a difference maker.

We got some amazing signings but I do believe our two biggest are Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga. With 238 games and a grand final victory under his belt with Sydney Roosters, Pearce will be a valuable asset.

He will be a brilliant mentor for Brock Lamb, Connor Watson and Jack Johns. As for Kalyn Ponga, I have never seen a fullback tear track on the field like Ponga and that includes Billy Slater.

With Wests taking over the Knights, they got a brilliant and bright future in front of them. Not just for the players or the club but us fans as well. We have gone through Hell and returned as stronger supporters. Now, it’s going to be our time.

For this year, I believe we will either just make the eight or just miss but 2019 and onwards is where you really need to be wary. I believe we will win our third and maybe even fourth by 2025 and that’s eight years.

Thank you for reading this and I hope you found it eye opening. Do you have the Knights picked for big things this year, or is their barren run set to continue?

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